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How to use immersive, long-form storytelling to bring a campaign to life

25 May 2021

At Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity, children, families and hospital staff are at the heart of everything we do. We share their incredible stories to help bring people closer to our work. During big campaign moments, like Christmas, it’s these impactful stories that grab people’s attention and encourage supporters to make a donation. Platforms and tools, like the immersive storytelling platform Shorthand, can be really useful in bringing these campaigns to life. You can see more on this at the recent CharityComms video conference.

Embracing immersive storytelling

There are different tools out there that can help you tell your charity’s story. When it came to the centrepiece for our Christmas activity we chose to immerse the audience with an engaging Shorthand page.

Using the functionality of a storytelling platform like Shorthand allowed us to amplify our digital storytelling in a powerful, engaging and dynamic way. It helped convey a simple message and purpose every child deserves to be home for Christmas and here’s how you can help.

So, what was the plan? Well, our Christmas film managed to grab people’s attention by telling the story of hospital patients travelling home for Christmas on magical beds. What we needed was a way to bring their stories to life and drive people through to the next stage of the supporter funnel – from awareness to consideration.

Using the ability to create long-form content in Shorthand we were able to introduce the real-life characters – hospital patients and staff – from the animation and give a behind-the-scenes look at what Christmas is like at the hospital. It also gave us the chance to break content down into different chapters or sections, while keeping the overall flow of the story. This helped bring the audience on a journey with us and gave us the space and time to share our charitable needs and encourage people to take an action throughout the story.

Creatively, the striking look and feel of our animation – which was developed in response to COVID-19 restrictions on live filming in hospital – also lent itself to this visual storytelling technique.  Animated content works well for immersive storytelling because you can take advantage of ‘scrollmation’ – reveal and scroll effects – which gives the viewer an experience that they control. This creates a sense of engagement that you can’t replicate on most standard web pages.

So how did all this fit with the overall campaign strategy? Like this:

  • Our aim was to reach a mass cold audience with an emotive animated film, created in partnership with creative agency adam&eveDDB, which told our brand story.
  • The animation captured people’s attention and was widely shared across all our digital channels and other media opportunities, including TV.
  • The call to action (CTA) in the film asked viewers to visit our website (gosh.org/christmas) where our Shorthand page then engaged them with stories of GOSH at Christmas.
  • Throughout these stories, we encouraged people to make a donation.

Planning is crucial

There are extra steps involved in creating any Shorthand page, so it’s important to factor in more time for planning (including storyboarding), generating content and testing. It’s really important to consider the narrative and flow.

Think about how the different chapters follow each other and build the picture for your reader. Try not to interrupt the story but use the reveal and scroll image functionality to immerse your viewer and keep them scrolling to read more.

We found the platform works best with powerful, high-quality photography, lots of engaging video and audio content, dynamic infographics, and short, emotive copy. A range of media gives your audience different ways to digest your story.

It’s always a good idea to factor in lots of time to test the functionality of the page as well. Share the page with others. Check links, add tracking for CTAs, consider flow and make sure the content is displaying as it should on both mobile and desktop. Also, ensure your key message and main CTA are clear and sitting at the top of the page and think of the inverted pyramid rule of writing. 

What can be achieved through long-form immersive storytelling?

We achieved some record-breaking results from our 2020 Christmas campaign especially around our key objectives – engagement and donations. Our Shorthand page had more than 40,000 unique visits, high dwell time – an average session was 1 minute 24 sections and received hugely positive anecdotal feedback on our external channels. Plus, almost £100k was raised through more than 2,000 individual transactions plus increased regular donors).

Obviously, a platform like this does require a decent budget and of course staff time to pull together but as you can see it can provide a great return on investment.

Our top tips for immersive storytelling

  • Design for use across all devices – remember most people will probably be viewing your page on mobile.
  • Factor in time and resource to create multimedia content that takes advantage of the scroll functionality.
  • Have a play around with what others have done and see what you like and what you don’t!
  • There are huge opportunities to stand out and be creative. Amplify your story and immerse your audience by being innovative.
  • As with any campaign, think about your audience first and their supporter journey. By anchoring different chapters of the story, we were able to add links in our social posts, which directed people to specific sections of the page. This helped us continue to drive traffic to the website while offering something different each time.
  • Pull in experts from different teams; content producers, designers, digital copywriters, web experts (although no coding is required), and make sure you have a team in place before you get started!

My ultimate advice to you – try it, have fun, be creative and then share your learnings with everyone else!


The technical side boxout

  • There are a number of ways to publish your content on Shorthand, including hosting on a Shorthand server, which would include a Shorthand URL. At GOSH Charity, we choose to host on our own servers and publish to our own domain, so the content is seamlessly integrated with the rest of our content on the charity website. We create the Shorthand page using the Shorthand workspace for our team/organisation and then we embed it to our site so it looks and feels like part of our brand.
  • ‘Theme’ options in Shorthand allow you to tailor the look and feel of your Shorthand page to meet the needs of your brand. For example, using our own font and colour scheme throughout really makes it feel like part of our suite of digital content, as opposed to something separate and fully bespoke.
  • Interactive elements are built in as templates so it’s a simple case of picking the desired effect and applying your own content to the template and bringing it to life.

If you enjoyed this you may also like: What charity communicators can learn from filmmakers: storytelling tips from behind the camera.

Image: Davidsonluna on Unsplash

Charlotte Young

digital content manager, Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity

Charlotte has reached millions of people with her innovative approach to storytelling, shining a light on the incredible patients, families and staff at Great Ormond Street Hospital. She has more than ten years' experience as creative lead for large multichannel campaigns and was the creative mastermind behind successful campaigns like One Day at GOSH and Home for Christmas.

Lee Griffiths

Charity Website Manager, Great Ormond Street Hospital Children's Charity

Lee is an experienced manager with a demonstrated history of working in consumer journalism and the charity sector. A Certified Product Owner and Scrum Master who is highly skilled in Web Management, Copywriting, Content Management and Production, Lee is a strong digital and communications professional with a Master of Arts (MA) in Professional Writing.